Bibi Jellema On The One Trip to Silicon Valley That Completely Changed Her Startup

Bibi Jellema Airguides Co-Founder
Bibi Jellema of Airguides. Photo: Scott Drysdale

They’d built a prototype, partnered with over 400 hostels and had almost 3000 travel experiences on their platform. So what could possibly have prompted Bibi Jellema and the founders of Airguides to re-brand, re-name and essentially re-start their startup?

Bibi Jellema is an entrepreneurial rising star and one of the co-founders of Airguides (once ‘Hoppola’) who joined me on The Network podcast this week.

A self confessed travel addict and a big believer in sustainable travel. Bibi is originally from the Netherlands and cofounded Airguides while, you guessed it… Travelling!

Airguides originally came from a desire to help travellers have amazing experiences while also giving back to local communities, sustainably. The exciting new startup recently graduated from the MuruD, PlusEight accelerator program at Spacecubed. 

But What Does Airguides Do?

Airguides is essentially a marketplace for travel guides made by travel influencers. Customers will be given the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of their heroes in some of the most exotic places on Earth. 

Imagine following the route that Casey Neistat took through Vietnam or taking Murad and Nataly Osmann’s travel recommendations in Eqypt. That’s the blue sky view of what Airguides wants to do.

That’s also not the business that got Bibi and her team accepted into the MuruD, PlusEight accelerator earlier this year. In fact, three years ago Bibi, Paul and Matt launched Hoppola. A company with a very different concept to Airguides that was aimed at leveraging the hostel industry.

Why The Change?

“It was all going quite well, but we were still at the stage of being pre revenue.” Said Jellema. In the end, the looming cost of building their prospective booking engine, forced them to question the right way forward.

“We were facing a few difficulties. One was our competitors: and hostel world.” Who both already controlled large sections of the market. “Another factor was that for the booking engine to run properly, the marketing cost would’ve been massive and on top of that the margins were also quite low.” 

“It was that and our trip to San Francisco.” At the beginning of the year, Bibi’s cohort was invited to take a trip to Silicon Valley and learn from some of the best in the business. The Airguides team took the opportunity with both hands, securing nearly 40 meetings during their short stay in startup hub. 

Change What You Think You Know About Silicon Valley

“It was the most insane networking I’ve ever experienced,” said Jellema.

LinkedIn was Bibi’s weapon of choice during the trip, with cold messaging on the platform majorly outperforming her expectations. She admits even she was surprised that it was often easier to connect with CEOs than other members of their teams. 

“It was unbelievable how even the most busy people have half an hour to do coffee with you and give you really valuable feedback.” Bibi was also amazed at just how curious people were to really listen to their idea. 

“I guess, the notion there is that everybody could become the next unicorn, literally anyone could be the next Uber or AirBnB.” But it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. “We were warned that ‘people may walk out on you and it’s going to be rough, you have to walk ten times faster than you usually do to keep up with people’ and that was definitely true.”

However, that fear of missing out essentially allowed Bibi to meet with business leaders capable of pushing her startup forward. People like Ex-Hotel Tonight CFO Tony Grimminick, whose human-calculator-like-mind quickly and easily analysed the viability of their revenue model.

“One of the most useful conversations for us was with the CFO of Hotel Tonight. He gave us some brilliant advice. He just knows finance models so well and he was like, for this to work, these are the sort of numbers that you’d need to hit.”

In Australia, with the size of the market, those numbers seemed unrealistic. That was the push they needed to put everything on the table. They had to question whether it was worth betting everything on the booking engine or if there was another way.

By Influencers, For Influencers

Apologies, the following is going to be a little passionate!

The pivot from Hopolla to Airguide’s is symptomatic of the way the world and marketing is changing. Social media stars have never had more power or more influence over their audience’s behaviour than they do in 2018. Each one is a marketing engine in their own right and businesses are starting to take advantage.

However, in my opinion, the most exciting evolution in influencer marketing is coming from what businesses like Airguides are doing. Their objective is not to pay influencers to sell their products, but to help enable influencers to sell their own.

The mindset change here is enormous. Airguides are essentially tapping into an army of the most effective marketers in the world and giving them products that they can make their own. That ownership is the key. 

At the moment the number one revenue stream for most influencers is sponsored posts. The first question any influencer thinks about when they consider doing sponsored content is: Does this align with my brand? Audience? And content style?

Obviously, the best way to get a product to align with your brand is to make it yourself. Platforms like Airguide’s take a lot of the legwork out of an influencer’s product development process. However, they also leave enough room and creativity so that the influencer to make the product their own. I can’t stress enough how small a price that is to pay to have the best marketing department in the world.

Apply The Lessons Yourself

  • Could you service a section of influencers better than anyone else?
  • Could you make things easier or more effective for them?
  • Could you create a framework or platform that enables influencers to make their own products?

If you have a lot of influencers in your network, luck you! You’re already so far ahead of the game. I would be asking them: What are their struggles? What do they wish they could be doing right now, but can’t? Then use that information to see if you could start your own business that influencers would be incentivised to promote.

To listen to my inspiring and insightful chat with Bibi Jellema, check out The Network with Mike Drysdale on your podcast app.

If there’s anything you would like to see or read more about from me or Americanised hit us up at

To follow Bibi’s journey and the future of Airguides check out:

Until next time, think big, appreciate the little things and add a little magic to the world around you!

Mike Drysdale

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